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The short second life of Bree Tanner

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It’s a testament to just how addictive Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga is for fans that a short novella about a fleeting character in one of the books instantly goes to the top of the bestseller list.

Just as the title says, this is about the short second life Bree Tanner, a fifteen-year-old girl “turned” by villain Victoria as part of the newborn vampire army she creates to attack the Cullens and Bella.

Told in the first person, Bree is struggling to understand what her role is in the vampire group she’s found herself in. She doesn’t know her maker’s name (readers of course know it’s Victoria), and her world is one of aggression and violence as the undisciplined newborns regularly tear each other apart.

In this brutal environment, she befriends Diego, and together they try to separate the lies from the facts about what it means to be a vampire – and what their “leaders” have in store for them.

For me, just as interesting as the story, is the exercise by Stephenie Meyer of exploring the back story of a peripheral character.

Meyer openly admits she began to care for Bree once she started on the back story (which she started during the editing phase of Eclipse at the suggestion of her editor), and wished she’d given Bree a different ending.

It’s one of the reasons I think Meyer’s stories are held so closely to the hearts of readers: she loves her characters (especially narrative characters) and it comes through on every page. It’s just as much the case for Bree as it is for Bella.

It certainly works as an addition to the Twilight canon (and prompts a re-read of the corresponding chapters in Eclipse).

An interesting exercise would be to have someone who hasn’t read the Twilight books read it, and judge it on its merits … but anyone who hasn’t read the other four (or even the first three) is unlikely to be curious enough to pick it up.

I’m interested to hear from fans who’ve read the new release, and see what they think.

(By the way I love the cover.)

Claudia Gray – the new Stephenie Meyer?

Originally posted on Great stories, 4 July

Given the phenomenal global success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, there’s a mad rush from publishers and publicists to find “the next Stephenie Meyer”.

Which is ironic, because it was only a year or so ago Meyer was being touted as “the next JK Rowling”.

I’m pretty sure authors themselves cringe at such comparisons, but in the current glut of urban fantasy, paranormal adventure and YA escapism hitting our shelves, they’re unavoidable.

Once author being compared to Meyer is Claudia Gray (the pseudonym of New York-based writer Amy Vincent). She’s currently two books into a planned four-book series about a gothic boarding school and the strange goings on there.

The Evernight series is told in the first person through the eyes of Bianca, a shy newcomer to the school who falls for fellow outsider Lucas.

For the first hundred or so pages, Evernight seemed to be heading into familiar Twilight territory. But then there was a very neat twist I hadn’t seen coming (having not gone out of my way to read too much about the series beforehand), which took the story in a new and interesting direction.

Without giving too much away, the series features vampires, vampire hunters and (in the second book, Stargazer), ghosts. It’s a kind of Twilight, Supernatural and Buffy hybrid, with a bit of Hogwarts thrown in for good measure.

Evernight introduces the main characters, establishes the mythology and sets the lines between the warring vampires and vampire hunters – which Gray then nicely blurs, ensuring the reader is never quite sure who’s “good” and who’s not.

Stargazer then ups the ante with more tension and twists as Bianca and Lucas try to make their relationship work, and new elements are added to increase the sense of mystery and menace. It’s these twists and turns, and the relative complexities of the relationships between a number of characters, that makes this series more than just another teen vampire love story. That, and the fact Gray is a good storyteller.

So … is she the next Meyer?

We’ve talked before on this blog (Great stories) about why Meyer’s novels have struck such a chord with readers. The appeal is undeniably the intense relationship between Bella and Edward, particularly the idea of a powerful, sexy vampire denying his very nature to love and protect the human he craves.

While the Bianca-Lucas romance drives the Evernight story, it’s as much a suspenseful gothic mystery as it is a love story. The relationships aren’t always healthy, and truth is never black or white, which makes the story all the more interesting.

Gray’s author bio refers to her lifelong interest in old houses, classic movies, vintage style and history, and she nicely weaves these elements into her narrative.

It’s not fair to compare Gray to Meyer. Gray is an unashamed fan of vampire stories – particularly those not mired in horror – and Everynight and Stargazer pay homage to that.

These YA books are fast-paced and suspenseful, and while there’s not the underlying sexiness of the Bella-Edward dynamic, there are plenty of hot and heavy moments with Bianca and Lucas (with their own complications, of course).

(See original post on Great stories for past comments)

Update: You can check out my review for the next book, Hourglass, here.

A detour into the world of science fiction

Originally posted on Great Stories, 21 March 2009

I took an unexpected detour into the world of science fiction this week.

I hadn’t intended to make this a month of Stephenie Meyer-themed posts, but when The Host finally became available at my library last week, it seemed as good a time as any to have a read and see how she tackled a different genre.

While there are some recurring themes from her other books (more on that below), there’s also an exploration of some interesting themes relating to what it means to be human.

Do we, as humans, appreciate the value of what it means to experience life on this planet? In The Host, Meyer explores the idea of what it would be like to lose that right to a species with a greater curiosity.

In her story, Earth has been invaded by a species able to take over the minds of its human hosts while their bodies remain intact.

Wanderer, an invading “soul”, has been given the body of one of the few surviving human rebels, Melanie. But Wanderer finds her body’s former tenant has not gone as quietly as she should have.

Melanie fills Wanderer’s mind with visions of the man she loves, who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from Melanie’s memories and the desires of the body now they share, Wanderer sets off in search of him. What follows forces Wanderer and Melanie to learn more about each other (and each other’s species) than they ever intended, forever changing their views of themselves and their existence.

In most sci-fi stories, alien colonisation generally revolves around securing a natural resource critical for survival, even if it’s simply finding room for population expansion.

But the peace-loving “souls” who colonise Earth simply set up camp in human bodies and go about living the lives as their human hosts once did. The majority do not multiply (it seems only a select number have the capacity to do so). They change nothing on the planet (except human behaviour, by making everyone pacifists) and take nothing from it.

It took me a while to work out what these invaders wanted on each planet. And then the penny dropped: the resource they’re mining is the human experience. Meyer’s alien species colonises other planets to experience life as the inhabitants do and the souls come to Earth to experience the unparalleled range of human emotions.

Wanderer abhors violence, and she and her species justify their invasion as being the only way to bring peace to Earth – rescuing it from human nature.

But while on the run with Melanie, she experiences the full gamut of human emotion – often at the receiving end – and ultimately finds a context for human violence. She comes to believe it is the ability to experience the extreme negative emotions of hatred and anger that allows humans to also experience the extremities of love and compassion.

The Host has many of Meyer’s themes from the Twilight novels: obsession, self-sacrifice, bigotry, love, and yes, even more than a hint of female masochism. Again we have a female narrative character willing to sacrifice herself (and in this case even be repeatedly physically punished) to save those she loves. Sound familiar?

The Host is definitely a unique take on the body snatchers plot, and the love triangle (cleverly touted as the first one involving only two bodies) is not quite as frustrating as I expected it to be. Actually, it becomes a love quadrangle, just to further complicate the emotional ties…

It does tend to get bogged down a bit through the middle third of the book, and there are some character frustrations, but ultimately the book delivers a very readable and often tense story that’s part sci fi thriller and part love story.

If you haven’t read Meyer yet, this could be a place start (you don’t have to be a sci fan to enjoy it). If you’re already a fan, chances are you’ll like this (slightly) more adult fare than her other work. If you’re not, it’s unlikely The Host will change your mind.

(See original post on Great Stories for past comments)

Do girls still secretly want to be rescued?

Originally posted on Great stories, 6 March 2009

Does the success of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series mean women have reverted to enjoying the notion of having a powerful man to protect them?

And if so, why?

Kirsten Tranter, in the latest Weekend Australian Review, suggests it may be the case, in a column that also explores how the romance between fragile Bella and vampire Edward rekindles the narrative of female masochism (where sexual gratification depends on suffering).

(I know I keep referencing the Twilight series, but honestly, when it keeps getting ink in literary publications like the Weekend Australian Review, you know it’s truly become a cultural phenomenon. If you’re still oblivious to what it’s all about, you can read my past posts here and here.)

Tranter, a fellow Joss Whedon/Buffy fan like myself, points out that while Whedon’s vampiric tales turned the tables on the stereotypical “girl fleeing from monster” (the girl turns out to have the strength and will to kill the monster instead), Meyer’s Twilight books mark a return to patriarchal values where the girl still needs saving.

Tranter says the success of the four novels proves authors are “still happy to create stories that end with cowering girls being saved by powerful guys, and girls are more than happy to embrace them”.

Does the overwhelming popularity of the Meyer series indicate attitudes may be changing among women (young and old) in the face of a threatening and uncertain world?

Is there a shift in the female psyche, possibly strongest among younger women, for a yearning of a time when they didn’t have to save the world but could rely on men to do it for them?

True, by the end of the fourth book, Bella has gained her own power and sense of purpose, but let’s not forget, the series was a hit long before that plot development was revealed. For most of the other books, she relies on strong males to protect her, whether it’s Edward or smitten werewolf Jacob.

I’ve always been a huge fan of quality fantasy, and, thanks to my obsession with Whedon and my general enjoyment of Meyer’s series, I’ve started seeking out quality paranormal fiction (and TV shows: I’ve become a fan of Supernatural and the new kid on the block True Blood, which is darker and more unsettling than your standard paranormal TV fare).

Part of this is the timeless search for great stories. But part of it is about escapism – and there is no greater escapism than a world where the normal rules of reality don’t apply.

But that doesn’t mean I want a fictional world where only the guys get to finish off the Big Bad (as Whedon would call them).

So why then, have female readers become so hooked on the story between Bella and Edward? Why then are teenage fans so totally in love with the overprotective Edward? Is Meyer undermining the feminist movement, or tapping into a latent female need for protection?

Personally, I like the idea of being able to take on the world myself – but reserve the right to ask for help from a big strong man occasionally…

See original post at Great stories for past comments – and there were some good ones!)

Twilight series – the verdict

Originally posted on Great Stories, 18 September 2008

Given that the web is awash with reviews and comments about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, it seems almost superfluous for me to weigh in to the discussion.

However, I’ve spent more than 2,300 pages and the past three weeks working my way through the four books, so to not discuss them would seem a waste!

Now, I know people either love or hate this series, so I’ll say upfront I generally enjoyed the overall experience (and yes, I hear the ink-stained toe-poker howl in pain).

For me the first book, Twilight, remains the best from a tight storytelling perspective (perhaps not surprisingly, it is also the shortest). New Moon and Eclipse develop the mythology and progress the story arcs that all come together Breaking Dawn, the fourth book.

At the core of the series is the romance between teenage Bella and her impossibly attractive classmate Edward, who also happens to be a vampire. Edward and his “family” have chosen to abstain from biting and killing humans, but Bella’s blood is so appealing to Edward, that even though he loves her, he’s terrified he’ll kill her if he loses control.

Their relationship is one of restraint and longing, filling the pages with sexual tension. As the story progresses, particularly in the third book, the focus becomes on Bella’s growing desire to become a vampire, which Edward opposes.

Eclipse coverFor those who haven’t read the books (and yes, they still exist), I won’t spoil the twists that arrive in the final 754 page instalment. Some readers have complained the first three books are a little too much the same, but – regardless of any other criticism – there can be no such complaints with the fourth book.

It takes the story in a different direction and has more sex and violence than the other three books combined – but still falls a long way short of being a “horror” story. It also sets the scene for further stories (although Meyer has said she won’t write any more from Bella’s perspective).

I’ve read Meyer talk in interviews about how much she loves her characters and loves spending time with them, and my greatest criticism with these books is that she indulges that love more than she should – or needs to – from a narrative perspective.

Plot points are demonstrated more than once, because the author clearly loves how the characters interact on the page. I grew continually frustrated – particularly in the middle two books – when it was obvious a scene or chapter was simply reiterating something that was already well established (for example, that the werewolf Jacob was in love with Bella … and don’t get me started on that relationship. Never been a fan of romantic triangles, and this one really annoyed me – but it does resolve itself with a nice sense of irony in the end).

At nearly 800 pages, Breaking Dawn is longer than it needs to be, but, in fairness, an enormous amount happens plot-wise.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Bella and Edward’s relationship was a metaphor for sexual restraint, and while that symbolism continues through the bulk of the story, it takes a back seat to the growing mythology. (Although, maybe her desire to be a vampire is symbolic of the transformation after marriage…)

When Meyer set out to write these stories – inspired by a vivid dream – I doubt she imagined she’d sell the number of books she has, or spark the kind of rabid fans and critics who now populate blogland.

I think she’s a writer who loves her characters and loves writing them. Enough people are devouring the series to send a message she’s not alone in her affection.

I may not be willing to don a “I love Edward Cullen” badge, but I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy large slabs of this story.

(See original post on Great stories for past comments)

Something to sink your teeth into

Originally posted on Great stories

Twilight

4 September 2008

You don’t have to be a fan of horror to know that stories about vampires are ripe with metaphors.

Lately, and quite inadvertently, I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about vampires – and what they represent metaphorically – thanks to my reading material.

First, I finally bit the bullet (or the jugular, as it may be) and started reading Stephenie Meyer’s mega-selling vampire series, starting with Twilight. I’d been putting this off for a while (as a Josh Whedon fan, I was concerned about stereotyping myself as a fan of all things vampiric).

After I’d read the first two Meyer books, a novel I’d on order from the library became available, The Opposite of Life by Australian author Narelle M. Harris. It was about – you guessed it – vampires.

It was an interesting exercise reading two different stories about vampires back to back, and analysing how the authors tackled the mythology and metaphorical aspects of their tales.

While Joss Whedon used vampires, demons and other “big bads” in his Buffy stories as metaphors for real-life monsters and personal battles, Meyer and Harris take different tacks – along the way also providing refreshingly different takes on vampire mythology.

What prompted me to finally pick up Twilight was an article that revealed Meyer was a practicing Mormon and that – the first book at least – contained no sex and barely any violence. But what really piqued my curiosity was the description of the story as a metaphor for sexual restraint.

At the core of the four-book series is a romance between teenage Bella and her impossibly attractive classmate Edward, who also happens to be a vampire. Edward and his “family” have chosen to abstain from biting and killing humans, but Bella’s blood is so appealing to Edward, that even though he loves her, he’s terrified he’ll her if he loses control in her proximity.

And so, their relationship is one of restraint and longing, filling the pages with sexual tension. The first book captures this tension and conflict remarkably well – to the point of becoming addictive. The second and third books (I’m halfway through the latter) focus more on the mythology Meyer is building, along with Bella’s growing desire to become a vampire so they can be together forever. (I’ll save my critique on the series until I’ve finished the fourth book.)

The Opposite of Life

Harris, on the other hand, takes a more poignant approach in a tale that’s also fresh, witty and – most importantly – original.

Her vampires – who stalk the streets of Melbourne – don’t need human blood to feed their thirst; they need it to “feel” anything.

In this story, wanting to become a vampire is about avoidance. Not avoiding death, but avoiding life and all its pain, which is a palatable option for narrative character Lissa. Too many people in Lissa’s life have died – including some unfortunate souls in Melbourne’s coolest gothic hang-outs – so when she befriends a remarkable unsexy vampire, she seriously considers becoming one herself to avoid any more pain.

Despite the bleak undertones, The Opposite of Life is an easy read and one I really enjoyed. It’s apparently the first of a series featuring Lissa and her forays into the world of vampires (Melbourne’s real underworld), and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next. Harris’ style is somewhere between chicklit and goth horror. And it works.

In both stories, the narrative characters have a choice to make about eternity. One is driven by love and desire, the other (at least in Harris’ first offering) is driven by sadness and grief – ultimately tempered by revelation.

I, for one, am enjoying seeing a classic mythology being given new treatment in hybrid genres. But I think once I’ve finished Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, I’ll take a break from the creatures of the night for a bit.

(See original post on Great stories for past comments)